Friday, March 18, 2005

The Sound of Silence. (And Some Light Vomiting)

I was checking up on the WorldChanging site when I discovered the following quote of Natalie Jeremijenko (I had never heard of her but then I have never heard of most people) in one of their articles:

"[At the Democratic and Republican conventions this past summer], the police threatened to deploy a sound weapon that concentrates sound energy on particular people and makes them tremendously nauseous."

I was thrilled at first but on rereading the context I realized that they were not planning to use it on the speakers at the conventions but on the protestors. Don't misunderestimate me here, I would love to see the Anti-Bush and Anti-Kerry, placard packing loonies bent over and heaving - the same way their empty slogans and vacuous chants make me feel. (One more freakin' "Hey-Hey, Hoe-Hoe!" chant and by Odin I will turn this planet to ash!)

The protestors however, are at least expressing their sincere if content-lacking views. The ones who really deserved a sonic heave are the speaking delegates who are expressing things they have been spoon fed by their parties' marketing divisions and never actually thought about. Not thinking about what you believe is the prime cause of right-wing people who hold left-wing ideals but are in denial about it and vise versa for the fascist left. A careful look at the left-wing/right-wing roulette wheel of thought will show numerous instances of party members who look like they were parachuted in because of some family tradition of partisan voting even though they are from some parallel universe where left is right and right is left. Looking a little further back in history will quickly show that entire issues like free-trade, civil rights and the roll of the government in society have switched parties without anyone batting an eyelash. This has the amusing consequence of the words "liberal" and "conservative" having acquired nearly the complete reverse meaning on different sides of the Atlantic. This made reading The Economist kind of a challenge when I was a lad, I can tell you.

More deserving still of the "words and lunch entanglement" blaster (W.A.L.E. blasters - cool!) are those speakers who actually have a brain and are capable of meaningful discourse and yet had chosen to spout meaningless platitudes, to fear monger about the "other side" (Like there really is one!) and to use every tool of bad reasoning they can think of on the loyal party rubes to this day. Keep together for the sake of unity. Let us not talk about what divides us. Informed dissent is more divisive than the silence illusion of consensus, after all. Diversity is good until in involves policy.

One day the economically literate Democrats and the libertarian Republicans will lift their faces out of the bag full of solvents that is politics on earth (from the first tribal chief to the commander in Chief) and realize what the rest of humanity, those of us without party membership cards, already know. That while the ballot box is a vital tool for depriving incompetent and corrupt people of power by a process similar to crop rotation (plow them under every four or five years), real power, the power to improve our lives, all our lives is achieved, not by lending our power to representatives, but in changing things ourselves.

That is why I love sites like Even if I am skeptical of some of the ideas and projects, they profile so many stories that seem to have a revolutionary potential. For example:

  • Ideas like a video game where the goal is to organize nonviolent action to topple an oppressive regime As Sim City provoked people to think about urban planning, A Force More Powerful asks you what you would do if your government started hating and distrusting its citizens. (A scenario that is not as close as some people think but is not as impossible as others think.) It is a practice simulation for the day when you wake up and realize that your country has became the next Serbia or Ukraine and the wall that must come down is running through your city. It is no wonder that politicians feel uneasy about video games. [Hey Congress, neither baseball nor Counter-Strike is the game you should be investigating. And while I have your attention... What the hell are erototoxins? I can't find that term in any textbook or medical journal or science paper. You want money to study these things so could you maybe provide a bottle of them for us to see?]
  • Projects like Adopt a mine field which can not run its commercials on American T.V. networks because the idea of children being blown up by land mines is too disturbing for American viewers to know about. Neither the Democrats nor Republicans have ever made a serious issue about increasing global funding for mine clearing, probably because they have not found a way of getting some pork barrel projects for their districts. Even if you believe that land mines are somehow valuable to military tools and are not, in fact intended to maim civilians, the idea that these things can just be left there without any attempt to remove them when you are done fighting is just fucking evil. Sorry for the language but if you can't say something is fucking evil when it is fucking evil, when can you say it?. Individuals can look at a site like this and ask, "What will improve the world more: making my annual donation to my political party or keeping kids from having their body parts ripped away from them?"
  • Concepts like leapfrogging. They didn't invent the concept but by assembling these stories on one page it helps you notice something important. While not all of the articles listed in this category would have struck the reader as earth shattering on their own, they form a pattern of activity that is having world changing consequences.
But then we could just sit around screaming at each other for being a member of the wrong party and occasionally pull out our vomit guns when we need a moment of peace. It is not the way I would go about changing the world but to each there freakin' own.

Now how do I get me one of those W.A.L.E. blasters. Some of my neighbors have been talking too loudly in the hallway again.


At Sun. Mar. 20, 03:14:00 p.m. 2005, Blogger Robert said...

Your concern and compassion are laudable, if not idealistic. It’s rather difficult to criticize government intrusion via speech suppression, while simultaneously demanding that government(s) act as a “force for good” in promoting foreign development and land mine removal…both of which are not free.

I share your disgust with the disingenuous political hack parties. But the reality is, many voters want the government to act on their behalf and refrain from acting on their neighbor’s behalf. Such self evident hypocrisy is one of the primary causes of “our” current state of affairs. One’s foreign aid permits another’s domestic “pork”.

At Mon. Mar. 21, 09:15:00 a.m. 2005, Blogger Apesnake said...

"It’s rather difficult to criticize government intrusion via speech suppression, while simultaneously demanding that government(s) act as a
“force for good” in promoting foreign development and land mine removal"

It is only difficult if you want no government intrusion or action of any kind. If you say: "Look - we understand that you can't stop stealing and spending our money. We can not stop you at this time so we will deal with that later. We just want less spent on suppression of dissent and more on improvements of the world. Government, not as a force for good but as a force for less evil. (Not that the "no interference" principle is such a bad idea given the damage they do when they use laws and programs to "solve" problems but I doubt that any political party will resist the urge to look useful with our money)

But I mention the fact that the government does not use the money it gets to actually improve anyone's life except their own, not to say that they have screwed up priorities that should change them but to say that they have screwed up priorities so we must do the right thing ourselves. The first statement might very well be idealistic but the second is realistic to the point that it is being done today and succeeding all over the world.

Just because they take some of our money and piss it away does not mean we are left penniless and powerless. Most of the really encouraging development innovations do not require huge governmental style budgets but some local involvement and some small scale funding by corporations and individuals.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to clear that up.

There are lessons to be learned from the successes in the Iraq and
Afghanistan reconstruction efforts, as well as the tsunami efforts:

Development can be successful even under guerilla warfare conditions as long as the stakes for failure are clearly understood at all levels.

Some coordination is needed. The tsunami has demonstrated that aid agencies can do a lot of good but they can also interfere and work at cross purposes. Coordination need not be a centralized body as much as a system for sharing needs and information so you don't have five agencies delivering water to the same region and none in neighboring regions or when the most pressing need is food.

The efforts on the ground must be numerous, small scale, and use local talent whenever possible. If you need something constructed that is beyond local capabilities, don't hire outsiders to do it, hire outsiders to train them. It takes a bit more time and money but in the end you have the project done and new local talent to use on the next project.

And most important is situational awareness. Be able to change tactics whenever necessary. Keep track of what is working and what is not. Make sure the locals are not just tolerant of your presence but enthusiastic and that they have the opportunities for input, criticism and inclusion.

Development and land mine removal are not free but neither are artificial limbs and food aid. Aid is what you have to give a nation when development is neglected. In some cases the local government interferes with development and since development agencies lack the means of regime change the only thing that can be done is to work on developing the neighboring countries until the contrasts become too glaring.


All of that is in regards to your first paragraph.

As for your second paragraph, I will keep this one shorter because...


I agree. The reason people get the government they deserve is not
because of some kind of Karma or divine retribution but because they ask for it. In order to say that everyone else is benefits from a corrupt system so why shouldn't we, you have to accept the inevitability of a corrupt system. People who think like that have embraced failure.

That is not the sound of inevitability, Agent Smith, it's a freakin' train.

At Mon. Mar. 21, 02:16:00 p.m. 2005, Blogger Robert said...

I agree with the ends you seek, but not the means.

Government waste (pardon the redundancy) is the byproduct of the lack of accountability. It’s always easier to spend money that someone else has earned. Much can be done by private philanthropy and capitalists' endeavors. These two can never assist everyone, but neither can governments. Governments typically give direct payments to other governments because of sovereignty issues. As history has shown, this benefits dictators more than their “subjects”.

Perhaps I’m a heartless bastard, as I just don’t believe that the “West” is responsible for the nourishment of the rest of the world. I can only imagine how horrible life must be in the “third world”, but that said, theft is not justified…even to ease suffering.

At Mon. Mar. 21, 10:17:00 p.m. 2005, Blogger Apesnake said...

"I agree with the ends you seek, but not the means."

Wrong. You actually agree with the means I advocate, it is just that I did not make those means clear.

The first section of was a hypothetical argument saying that one could ask the government to intervene in ways that cause vaccinated kids (for instance) rather than puking protesters without being contradictory or hypocritical. I can see that I did not clearly indicate that I was playing devils advocate there. I honestly do not see government as a solution except to the point that they can remove obstructions to a world wide free-enterprise system for all and not just those who can pay the tariffs and lawyers to cut through the red tape; obstructions that they are responsible for implementing in the first place.

I was also mentioning government efforts like the Iraq reconstruction which could have given the impression that I would like the governments of the west to spend more on intergovernmental aid and state run projects. While the Iraq reconstruction has done a lot of good and has provided valuable insights into how to develop a nation, it would be far better to apply the lessons in the philanthropic sphere and foreign investment strategies. I am not advocating that western nations return to the aid programs that they uselessly pursued in the 70s and 80s. I advocate the use of private philanthropy and capitalism which seems to be the philosophy of many (maybe not all) of the stories that are highlighted at

I also agree with you that developed nations should not be feeding the poor nations (except for emergency famine or disasters). It damages their agriculture markets often undercutting the local farmers and puts the people at the mercy of whoever controls the distribution (their governments).

People often confuse international development with intergovernmental aid. Aid is temporary and solves nothing in the long term. Development is cumulative and progressive in nature. With a very few exceptions (like USAID) the best development projects are funded by donations and not run by nations. That is why I say that we must do the right thing ourselves.

Being clear can be difficult for me when I am spouting out a large number of thoughts so in order to avoid further confusion on what my position is I will distill it into the clearest terms possible:

Philanthropy + capitalism = Good
Government feel good spending = Bad but better than causing people to puke.

At Mon. Mar. 21, 11:19:00 p.m. 2005, Blogger Apesnake said...

Government waste (pardon the redundancy) is the byproduct of the lack of accountability.

I have worked in government (I am from Canada - just about everyone has to work for the government at some point in their lives) and I think that this is only the first part of the problem.

Actually, if there was no accountability whatsoever, government would be bad enough. As it is it's worse because every level in a governmental organization is accountable, through a chain of command, right up to someone at the top who is accountable to the fickle whims of the loudest and most uneducated of the public.

Governments are not accountable for performance but for ideology because what people want matters and what is best does not. From the supervisor level to the department level to the political leadership and the general public, popular beats smart. In government as in life.

In addition to messed up accountability (stick) there are no incentives (carrot) to improve. If I (the hypothetical I - since I was never a manager) spend 5% of my budget to invest in productivity, I will have 5% less money to run my department and my supervisor will see that I can run on 5% less (regardless of how much sacrifice I had to do like unpaid overtime) so I loose 5% next year. Then as the improvements in productivity start rolling in the savings are scooped out of my budget so... what is the point of innovation? Seniority means more than performance for promotions.

All of this is academic because all of the decisions about investment in productivity are made at levels that have no idea what is going on. They know that things got done last year without improved productivity and they are unaware that they got done with higher employee turn over, more emergency spending and generally taking unsustainable actions.

Without revenue, there is no reason to cut expenses. Accountability should have nothing to do with whether you are following the new philosophy of your department head but on how you are meeting the goals of your department.

I think that with government, waste is more of an end product with education, health and justice being the byproduct that keeps people from advocating an end to government altogether.

At Tue. Mar. 22, 12:08:00 a.m. 2005, Blogger Robert said...

From the supervisor level to the department level to the political leadership and the general public, popular beats smart. In government as in life.

As was my high school experience.

I think that with government, waste is more of an end product with education, health and justice being the byproduct that keeps people from advocating an end to government altogether.

If you're saying that stupidity and/or ignorance is responsible for current reality, then we agree.

At Thu. Mar. 24, 02:00:00 a.m. 2005, Blogger Eric Grumbles said...

Damn, I was doing just fine, chuckling a bit, having fun with the post. And then I read W.A.L.E. Blaster and spewed coke all over my freaking laptop. Gee, thanks. I think I'll be bringing a lawsuit against you now for pain and suffering.

At Thu. Mar. 24, 02:10:00 a.m. 2005, Blogger Eric Grumbles said...

By the way, I have worked for big companies, small companies and the US government. I've seen large organizations perform well, but only when they pushed responsibility and accountability down to the lowest possible level. This is why the US Army performs well in combat and horribly in peace time. My current company, a multi-national with 100,000 employees globally needed to cut costs, but felt that cutting staff to do so was a really bad idea. The CEO sent an email to the whole company asking each and every employee to find a way to save $1000 over the next twelve months. We cut our operating costs by $112 million last year. Interesting.

At Thu. Apr. 21, 07:26:00 p.m. 2005, Blogger Apesnake said...

"And then I read W.A.L.E. Blaster and spewed coke all over my freaking laptop. Gee, thanks. I think I'll be bringing a lawsuit against you now for pain and suffering."

Given that those Laptops can get hot enough to bake one's testicles (so I hear) I may have done you a favor.


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